A humanitarian crisis, an international response, a congressional obligation
Karen Bass | 3/30/2011, 5 p.m.
The Arab spring that awoke in lands throughout North Africa and the Middle East was a sight to behold. The spigot of unrest was too powerful, the energy too spontaneous, the movement too organic for any government to turn off.
Seasons of discontent were reversed by the keyboard clicking and smart phone tapping of a youthful generation expressing their exuberance in 140 characters on Twitter, and organizing movements of shared struggle on Facebook fan pages.
While too many lives were cut short, regimes accustomed to wielding a particular brand of power did not respond to these uprisings with sheer force that was despotically ruthless and inhumanely cruel.
There was one exception.
In Libya, the fist of tyranny reigned down with brutish might on a people who refused to be excluded from this season of uprising and change.
Muammar Gaddafi would be different. To a people's revolution, he responded with bullets and bombs. A massacre would be played out for the world to see; stomach-churning images of civilians mowed down by forces loyal to their ruler.
In very real time, the images went viral, social networking sites were abuzz, and families throughout the world watching Al Jazeera, the BBC, and CNN witnessed the depravity of Gaddafi, who pledged to "show no mercy," and he was true to those words.
To a humanitarian disaster, a worldwide response followed. The Arab League called for a No Fly Zone to protect the Libyan people, and using unprecedented clear language, the United Nations Security Council invoked a resolution to use "all measures necessary" to protect the Libyan people.
This would not be an American engagement in Libya but an international one, with the responsibility of protecting the Libyan people and enforcing the No Fly Zone shared amongst NATO, Arab League members, and with the strong support of the Security Council.
Already NATO has taken full command of the Libyan campaign and scores of nations have contributed to the mission, including France, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. A Canadian lieutenant general is taking control of all NATO military operations, and with this hand-off, additional nations have pledged to help enforce the No Fly Zone.
President Obama's detractors want to find every opportunity to attack the commander in chief. At first, the naysayers charged that the White House was too slow to respond, too deferential to other nations and world bodies. Then the complaints from the usual chorus morphed into an attack on the president for involving the United States in this international fight. This was pure criticism for the sake of criticism.
As we approach a presidential election, politics has no place in this discussion, as members of the United States Armed Forces are engaged in a conflict overseas.
What does have a place is the responsibility of the administration to consult with congress and inform elected representatives of our mission and objectives in Libya. Congressional leaders and senior lawmakers were briefed as recently as Friday about ongoing operations in Libya.
On Monday, the president addressed the nation from National Defense University. Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, the intelligence community and military leaders will briefed a bipartisan, bicameral assembly of lawmakers on Wednesday. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing as well.
Although the humanitarian results of Gaddafi's brutality were startling, demanding an international response and presidential engagement, there is no substitute for congressional involvement and ultimately, oversight. And there is no substitute for an international response.
Karen Bass represents the 33rd congressional district, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.
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